Evan's Reviews > In the Cut

In the Cut by Susanna Moore
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's review
Jan 26, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: _lfpl-library, _less-than-200-pages, crime-fiction, sexuality, ny-ny, 2011-reads

In the Cut was made into a movie just a scant few years ago by artsy feminist director Jane Campion, with Meg Ryan the all-American girl trying to pull the mid-life star comeback and the sexy image-changing turn (with Oscar-bait glum acting chops and the requisite nudity) in the role of the language scholar and teacher who succumbs to the pull of the seamy side of NYC. Shades of Looking for Mr. Goodbar, perhaps.

The book, in a nutshell, is about a divorced English teacher in New York, (Frannie in the film but unnamed in the book; I'll stick with Frannie for ID purposes), whose days involve contending with half-illiterate students and whose nights seem a bit dowdy until she sees a sexual act in a bar that ends up making her a potential witness in a murder case. She finds herself being visited rather too frequently by a rough-hewn police detective, Malloy, whose crudity fascinates her, but who also may be leading her into greater danger.

After reading this, I think the material actually works better in film form. I like the film, but it, like this book, suffers from a kind of schizophrenia. It seems that half the time author Susanna Moore is more interested in exploring arcana such as linguistics (her character is contantly pondering and musing over various types of argot), student-teacher relations, school politics, social class distinctions and the place of the intelligent working gal and her conflicting sexual feelings in the milieu of postmodern urban alienation. Blah blah. In the doing so, the crime story of the book gets elongated almost to the point of nonexistence for most of the narrative. (Frannie as narrator--ergo Susanna Moore--admits more than once that she can't stick to the point.)

The book is filled with interminable tangents and digressions that sap the gravitas from a shocking (though not entirely unexpected) ending that should be powerful, but isn't due to reader lack of interest by that point. The dialogues between Frannie and her friend John are incredibly boring (and sometimes nonsensical, or just badly written) and the doings in the police precinct HQ are listless. And I don't understand all the broohaha here among reviewers about the allegedly saucy sex scenes. They don't seem particularly unique to me. Maybe I'm jaded.

The upshot is that readers who dig crime fiction are not going to like this very much as a crime thriller, and also means that readers interested in philosophical character studies are going to be annoyed that there is any crime plot at all, especially as it gains momentum again near the finale.

Watching the film, I liked all the stuff about the milieu of dark New York and the sensuous urges of the heroine, but was put out when the cheesy crime-plot elements intruded (in fact, the movie radically changes the ending to an unlikely happy one, but that's Hollywood, folks). Reading the book, I appreciated its consideration of issues of female control and sexuality, and a woman's observations about male sexual behavior (even when they were sometimes stereotypical).

Given the thematic ambitions of the book, I'm not sure if Moore really wanted to write a crime book, or felt that doing so would give it commercial legs. The only really useful thing about the crime plot is that it introduces an element of risk and danger that plays on the conflicting urges of the heroine to be safe and bookish versus daring and sensual.

The book has moments of bravura writing, but seems at times also to need tighter editing. I sometimes felt that Moore had written lots of notes about people's speech patterns with the intention of shoe-horning them into a novel narrative, which at times is how the thing feels while reading it. (Yes, I realize Frannie is supposed to be writing a dictionary about contemporary slang, but the asides in which she shares some of its contents feel like an intrusion. You just want her to get on with the story already.)

The book was interesting enough to continue reading, and there were passages where I was thinking, "Why can't she write the rest of this book this well?" Perhaps I was put off somewhat by Frannie's air of condescension throughout; it often made it hard for me to take her and the issues in the book seriously.

There's a really good novel hiding in this mess. It strives, but fails, to find the Platonic form it seeks.

I'd recommend the movie (I think one version of the movie on DVD may offer the "alternate" original downbeat ending) but advise passing on this book, with so many other good reads out there.

(Kr@KY, reposted 2016)
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Reading Progress

January 26, 2011 – Shelved
January 26, 2011 – Shelved as: _lfpl-library
January 26, 2011 – Shelved as: _less-than-200-pages
January 26, 2011 – Shelved as: crime-fiction
January 26, 2011 – Shelved as: sexuality
January 29, 2011 –
page 12
January 29, 2011 –
page 21
February 10, 2011 –
page 57
February 11, 2011 –
page 85
February 11, 2011 –
page 115
Started Reading
February 12, 2011 – Shelved as: ny-ny
February 12, 2011 –
page 135
75.42% "ugh, it's short, yet seems endless."
February 12, 2011 –
page 179
February 12, 2011 – Shelved as: 2011-reads
February 12, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink Haven't seen it or read it so probably not qualified to comment, but Campion's work tends to conflict people - either love it or hate it. Moore's "In the Cut" doesn't really sound like Campion's usual fare.

message 2: by Evan (last edited Feb 12, 2011 08:31PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Evan I thought Campion's adaptation did a good job of getting at the meat of the book while cutting out all of Moore's fat. Without giving up spoilers, the finale of both are exactly the same until, voila!, the movie version has the happy ending (as opposed to the book's bleak one). Apparently, from what I've read, Campion wanted it that way, but I'm skeptical of that. I don't think the suits would have allowed the book's ending on the screen. If it was made in the 1970s, when things were bolder, the darker ending would made the cut (no pun intended).

BTW, I'm a Campion fan. I thought In the Cut was unjustly maligned.

message 3: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink I should put it on my to read-to see list. :)

Evan Yes, it makes for an interesting comparison. The book was a slow slog for me, though.

message 5: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink Aside from the books about Janet Frame (Angel at my table etc) I've not read any books Campion has filmed. I am more a fan of her cinematography techniques -& at uni studied that - she was touted as something of a director goddess..I didn't ever meet her she was already in the USA then but did work on a project with Claudia Castle another cinematographer molded in her image.

Evan An Angel at My Table was the best Campion movie I've seen. I'm not sure if I'll ever read the Frame book because it sprawls over several long volumes, even though I've read they are great.

message 7: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink I wouldn't bother with Frame's "Faces in the water" (as it's part fiction, limited to her time in a mental hospital and inaccurate), if you are going to read a biography of her I'd recommend Michael Kings one... http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12...

Evan I'm not sure how interested I would be in Frame, apart from enjoying the film about her. I think I would first need to read at least something she had written. Possibly the second autobiography, which I think is "Angel..."

message 9: by Holly (new)

Holly I read the book years ago and liked it more than the film. But I had forgotten or hadn't realized that it was a Jane Campion film. Thanks for reminding me of the work.

message 10: by Evan (new) - rated it 2 stars

Evan You're welcome. I admired some of what the book was attempting, but felt it did lend itself very well to a moody film.

message 11: by Melogee (new)

Melogee Great review, the movie was much better than the book

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